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When to Seek Help for Your Mental Health

If you are in good emotional health, you are aware of your thoughts and feelings, generally can control your behaviors, and feel good about yourself. That doesn't mean a person with good emotional health won't ever have emotional problems, or even mental illness. But a person with good emotional health may be more likely to realize when a problem becomes troublesome enough to see a health care provider or a counselor, says the American Academy of Family Physicians.

What distinguishes mental illness from problems of daily living is its severity or persistence over time. Mental illness includes mental disorders of thought, mood, or behavior. People with a mental illness may have great difficulty with daily routines and tasks, responsibilities of family, work, or school, or personal relationships. Many people with mental illness don't look ill, but others may be confused, agitated, or withdrawn, according to the American Psychological Association.

People with mental or emotional disorders often:

  • Feel depressed or sad for several weeks or more

  • Think about or attempt suicide

  • Experience extreme mood swings

  • Feel helpless or hopeless

  • Feel that life is out of control

  • Have sudden feelings of panic

  • May avoid certain common situations because of excessive fearfulness

  • Need to carry out unnecessary tasks repetitively

  • Are unable to maintain close relationships

  • Drink excessively or use illegal drugs

  • Are unable to stop destructive behavior, such as gambling

  • See, hear, or experience imaginary things

  • Threaten violence or become aggressive and violent

If you have any of the symptoms of mental illness, call your health care provider or a mental health professional.

Everyday problems

People generally seek help for mental and emotional problems for three reasons: They notice a significant shift in how they feel about themselves, they become aware of ongoing difficulties in their close personal relationships, or they have chronic problems getting along with people at work.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I been feeling less happy, less confident, or less in control than usual for a period of several weeks or longer?

  • Are emotional problems getting in the way of my work, relationships, or other aspects of my life?

  • Have my own efforts to deal with a problem failed to resolve the situation?

  • Do I feel emotionally "stuck" and helpless to change my behavior or circumstances?

If you answer "yes" to one or more of these questions, seek help from a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. Therapy can be a tool for change and a source of support when you need it most. Your treatment may require medication and talk therapy.